Compassion: Conceptualisations, Research, and Use in Psychotherapy

Compassion: Conceptualisations, Research, and Use in Psychotherapy

Compassion: Conceptualisations, Research, and Use in Psychotherapy

Compassion: Conceptualisations, Research, and Use in Psychotherapy


What is compassion, how does it affect the quality of our lives and how can we develop compassion for ourselves and others? Humans are capable of extreme cruelty but also considerable compassion. Often neglected in Western psychology, this book looks at how compassion may have evolved, and is linked to various capacities such as sympathy, empathy, forgiveness and warmth. Exploring the effects of early life experiences with families and peers, this book outlines how developing compassion for self and others can be key to helping people change, recover and develop ways of living that increase well-being. Focusing on the multi-dimensional nature of compassion, international contributors: * explore integrative evolutionary, social constructivist, cognitive and Buddhist approaches to compassion * consider how and why cruelty can flourish when our capacities for compassion are turned off, especially in particular environments * focus on how therapists bring compassion into their therapeutic relationship, and examine its healing effects * describe how to help patients develop inner warmth and compassion to help alleviate psychological problems. Compassion provides detailed outlines of interventions that are of particular value to psychotherapists and counsellors interested in developing compassion as a therapeutic focus in their work. It is also of value to social scientists interested in pro-social behaviour, and those seeking links between Buddhist and Western psychology.


Paul Gilbert

The book explores the psychology of compassion. Although it has been long neglected in Western psychology, Eastern traditions have viewed compassion as central to liberating our minds from the power of destructive emotions such as fear, anger, envy and vengeance (Goleman, 2003). Compassion not only is a process that underpins the building of prosocial relationships with others, but also has great potential to heal our minds and bodies. In Buddhist traditions, compassion is linked to metta or loving-kindness. This form of loving is not linked to 'desire' for the other or seeking attachments. Salzberg (1995) says that metta comes from two words meaning 'gentle' and 'friend' (p. 24). Compassion (which is an element of loving-kindness) involves being open to the suffering of self and others, in a non-defensive and non-judgemental way. Compassion also involves a desire to relieve suffering, cognitions related to understanding the causes of suffering, and behaviours - acting with compassion. Hence, it is from a combination of motives, emotions, thoughts and behaviours that compassion emerges.

The great insights of the Buddha were basic observations on life and are illuminated in the four noble truths (Walpola Sri Rahula, 1959/1997). These are that life is full of threats and suffering (or dukkha - sometimes translated as dis-ease). All sentient beings seek to be free of suffering (dukkha). However, many of our ways of trying to reduce threats and relieve ourselves of suffering and distress, such as seeking the love/approval of other humans, fame, glory, sex or wealth, may offer only temporary comforts (all things are impermanent). Moreover, they can leave us worse off because we can come to crave these things, fear their loss, and in pursuing them we can distort our sense of self and create envy and suffering for others. The Buddha argued that to 'become enlightened' and create an inner state of 'being at peaceful happiness' was to come to see through these 'illusions or afflictions' by training the mind. Cultivating loving-kindness and compassion for self and others was a path to the release from suffering for all.

It has probably only been over the past century or so that Western

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